In the ed’s letter from The Mission Issue 26, Tudor Caradoc-Davies shares a few thoughts on what’s really ticking over in our brains when we fly fish.

While watching my fly drift down a long bubble line on the Smalblaar River’s Transport beat the other day, I got to talking to my fishing buddy Myburgh about what this, the appeal of fly fishing, is truly about at a base, primal level.

It was a good drift. My elk hair caddis followed the seams and eddies of the run at the same pace and in the same way as every other bit of riverine flotsam in the river alongside it. We’d seen a rise there earlier,  but there was no obvious hatch on the go. With the caddis doing its thing, everything looked perfect for a trout to breach, Jaws-like, and annihilate the fly.  

We fleshed it out and then reduced what we were doing down to this.

The challenge itself of convincing a fish to eat a bouquet garni of feathers and thread, definitely gets a percentage of the overall appeal of this game. Sure, the fight gets a mention too, but I’d give it third princess placement on the pleasure centre podium. Then there’s the comment so many like that, “the best part is watching them swim away strong.” It’s well-intentioned yet hackneyed Insta-speak, but I get the sentiment. I too like knowing that a fish I caught and released swam away in the right state to survive.  

That said, it’s definitely not the best part. That has to be a dead tie between anticipation and then, if things go right, connection. In short, the eat.

Elandspad River rainbow trout. Photo Ryan Janssens

Thoughts on what's really ticking over in our brains when we fly fish
Elandspad River rainbow trout. Photo Ryan Janssens

Yes, there’s the literal connection from the fish, through your tippet, leader, line and rod to you, but it goes much further than that. It’s the stuff that recreational anglers have forgotten, but subsistence fishermen still know. The thrill we get from a trout, a tarpon or a triggerfish rocketing from safety to smash a fly, tickles some deep flashpoint in all of us. Put simply, it’s the muscle memory of millennia – if they eat, we eat. Never mind that due to the industrial food complex (as well as plummeting fish stocks or mercury levels in fish) we no longer need to (and in many cases should not) keep the fish we catch; that primal thrill centre still fires up the slot machine jackpot lights of our brains.

Winner winner, trout for dinner.

It’s there in the milliseconds before every eat, the eat itself and the moments that follow. The fight, the release and the stories we take home are all just gravy.

Hooked on anticipation, the entire drift we oohed and aahed like kids at the circus, waiting for the drama – victory or failure – that the eat might bring.

In primal terms, it was a good thing we brought biltong.

This was the Ed’s Letter in The Mission Issue 26, which you can read in full below. Dig into the rest of our archive here.

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